Saturday, December 03, 2005

Feast of St. Francis Xavier

Today is the feast day of St. Francis Xavier and in today's second reading from the Divine Office, we read a letter he wrote to St. Ignatius. It's a letter that struck home for me this morning while doing my readings and prayer, especially when taken in context with today's reading from the Gospel from Mt. 9:35-10:1, 5a, 6-8. Here's part of it:
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for thembecause they were troubled and abandoned,like sheep without a shepherd.Then he said to his disciples,“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;so ask the master of the harvestto send out laborers for his harvest.” (Mt. 9:36-38)

Jesus IS the Good Shepherd. But further into today's reading we also see Jesus summoning his twelve disciples and giving them authority over unclean spirits "to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness."

Jesus has ordained that there be in his Church good shepherds so that in his name they may watch over and lead his sheep. At the head of all these, as his Vicar on earth, he established Peter and his successors, to whom we owe a special veneration, love and obedience. Together with the Pope, and in communion with him, are the bishops to whom we pay similar homage as successors to the apostles. Priests are good shepherds, especially in the administration of the Sacrament of Penance in which all our wounds and illnesses are healed.

But every Christian also should be a good shepherd to his fellow men, especially by means of fraternal correction, example and prayer. Let's consider often that, in one way or another, we are to be the good shepherds of those whom God has placed at our side. We have a duty to help them, through example and prayer, to walk in the way of holiness and to perservere in their correspondence to the gifts and indications of the Good Shepherd, who leads us to the pastures of eternal life.

This role of good shepherd is a most demanding one. It involves much love and a great deal of patience, things I lack at crucial times it seems. It required courage, ability and meekness, as well as quickness of mind and a great sense of responsibility.

St. Francis Xavier did not neglect his mission, yet saw others doing so and wanted to do more such was his zeal. I shudder at times to think of what he would say to me, and yet I wish he were able to. But in this letter below, I think he's doing exactly that.

A letter from St Francis Xavier to St Ignatius

Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel

We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. No Portuguese live here the country is so utterly barren and poor. The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is nobody to say Mass for them; nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God’s Law.

I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptised. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”.

I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians.

Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a
madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a
tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”

I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like – even to India.


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